Who am I and why the hell should you care about reading my blog?

Avid motorcyclist & freelance writer, specializing in motorcycles & motorcycle related topics, with a healthy dose of good humor, good vibes & general advice on simply being a good person.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

6 Month Product Review- Adaptive Headlight and LED Turn Signals

Well MotoReaders, if you've been following my blog, you will have figured out a couple of things by now- 1, I like to give my honest opinions on new products, and 2, I like to review them after I've had some time to use them and put them through their paces. You'll also know that I'm not on anyone's payroll, nor do I get discounts for the products I'm reviewing, so there's absolutely no bias or influence for me to sell you on the products... if I like it and think it's a good product and worth the price, you'll know... but if not, I'm going to give it to you straight so you don't waste your hard-earned dough.

With that said, let's get to it!

My basic criteria

Today I share my 6 month review of the J.W. Speaker Adaptive LED Headlight and the Kuryakyn Tracer diffused LED turn signals that I installed on the MotoWriter Road King Special back in May of this year (see My Inner Cheapskate Lost!). 

In my previous post, I mentioned a few points that I'll touch on briefly here. 

1- Price and value. The number one thing I look at when buying or upgrading any product is the price and the value. When I say value, I mean, what am I going to get out of this product for the price I'm going to pay for it? Is it cheap enough to try it, then toss it if I don't like it, or is this going to be a significant investment for me? What is a significant investment for one person, may be quite a bit different for someone else, so I'll qualify that question with this- I'm a blue-collar working man with bills to pay. I don't have "family money" or a job that pays 6 figures, so a headlight that costs more than my motorcycle payment, is going to fall under that "significant investment" category.

2- Cool factor. Yes, this may seem like a very superficial point to consider, but it is an important point nonetheless. Why? Because it's a motorcycle and, while I want it to be functional, I also want it to look good while being functional. Let's be honest for a moment, if we are only concerned with functionality, then we probably wouldn't ride motorcycles in the first place. I can think of several different options for improving the lighting on my motorcycle that would be less expensive, but would look horrible in my opinion (which is all that matters when it comes to how my motorcycle looks). 

Bottom line- it's gotta look good, function well and do what I expect it to do for the price I paid for it. 

J.W. Speaker adaptive headlight (model 8790)

First, let's talk about the big one... the $550 headlight. I've known J.W. Speaker products for several years and I know who they are building products for (I'm looking at you, Harley-Davidson and Indian). There's no shame in it though. Rarely, especially these days, do major manufacturers make their own specialty products. For example, companies like Showa, Brembo, Mikuni, Keihin and Delphi have been supplying their parts to a wide array of major manufacturers because, simply put, they have their products dialed in so well (and patented so thoroughly) that it is more cost effective for companies like Yamaha, Harley-Davidson, Indian and so on, to simply buy their ready-made components and either re-brand them, or market them as a selling point (case in point, look at how many companies brag about using Brembo brakes).

So with the J.W. Speaker Adaptive headlight, the biggest question wasn't if the quality of the product was sufficient, but rather, was the functionality of the "adaptive" technology worth the price tag? Living in South Mississippi provides a very long riding season, but the trade-off is, there's not a whole lot of really curvy roads and there's even less mountain roads. So, in order to do a full, fair product review on a headlight that is supposed to illuminate your way through curves, I made a trip to the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, just for my loyal MotoReaders. 

The headlight functions surprisingly well. I do notice it more in left-hand turns and curves more than right hand turns, but it's not because it's not working properly, but rather, the fact that I'm on the right side of the road, so there's less road to be lit up. In right turns, it lights up the shoulder and ditch instead which is still good because now I can see those woodland critters on the edge of the road that are waiting for their chance to ambush an unprepared motorcyclist. The light functions exactly as promised and, as a matter of fact, has spoiled me so much that I don't even want to ride my Dyna at night because I've become so used to the extra light from the Road King's adaptive. It really is that nice. 

While the price tag is hefty, it is worth spending the extra money if you ride at night, especially on curvy back roads. If you are a daytime only rider or do most of your riding on long, straight stretches with little to no curves, then first of all, I'm sorry for you because that sounds awful, but my advice would be to save your money. If, however, you enjoy the peace and solidarity of riding under the stars on sweeping curves, then bust open that little ceramic pig and order yourself a new adaptive headlight from J.W. Speaker. 

Kuryakyn Tracer diffused LED turn signals (2904 & 2906)

The Road King Special, by its very name, is supposed to be "special." One of the biggest things I like about this bike is the styling- it's modern, yet maintains its heritage as a classic Harley-Davidson FLH. With that said, one of my biggest pet peeves is cutting corners and, in my opinion, Harley-Davidson got lazy and cut some corners on this bike. It just annoys me when something is so well executed... 90% of the way, then the last 10% is half-assed because no matter how great that 90% is, the only thing that will be talked about and remembered is the 10% that sucked. Changing an incandescent light bulb on a motorcycle that cost almost as much as an economy sedan, is a good example of that. It's not a deal-killer, but it sure is a stupid thing to have to do, when there are so many better alternatives already on the market. First of all, LED bulbs should be standard on all motorcycles, especially Harley-Davidsons. Why you ask? Because the execs at Harley-Davidson HQ are going all-in on the concept of the company being a "premium brand." So, if H-D is marketing their motorcycles as "premium" then why are they using the same incandescent light bulbs they have been using for the past 20+ years? LED bulb technology has dramatically changed the landscape of artificial and supplemental lighting in everything from street lights, to the lights in your home, to the lights on your vehicles, and everything in between. Several years back, I realized that the incandescents on the Road King Special were sub-standard for this slick, black, Cadillac of a motorcycle (oh yeah, that was a Quiet Riot reference... click the link to rock out, '1980's style!), so I replaced them long ago with some off-the shelf LED bulbs from the local auto parts store. 

While the replacement LEDs functioned well thanks to Harley-Davidson so thoughtfully using an, already load equalized, CAN bus electrical system on the bike (meaning, you don't need to install load equalizers due to the lower amp draw with LED bulbs on the newer Harley-Davidson models), they didn't look that good. I really like the look of the diffused LED tail lights on newer cars. My wife's car has them and they just look like they're from the future... they're one of the few things of the modern age that I do actually like. So, you can imagine my excitement when I saw the Kuryakyn Tracer diffused LED lights available for my, modern classic, Road King Special. At over $100 a pair, they are considerably more expensive than the LED bulbs that I had already picked up, but these lights had the modern look I was after, so it didn't take nearly as much decision making on these. They are super bright, look amazing and, in my humble opinion, really match the sleek, modern aesthetic of my Road King Special. 

For what you get- a very well made, plug and play, aftermarket device that offers an immediate improvement over the stock lighting with a modern, updated, and just plain stylish appearance- all for around $250.That's not too bad for a full LED upgrade, in my opinion.

Final thoughts

So, in the case of this review, you may be wondering why it may seem to be a little more focused on the "pros" than the "cons" and my simple response is this- I pride myself on doing thorough research before I drop a wad of dough on something. In the case of upgrading the lighting on my 2017 Road King Special, it was a deliberate, albeit unnecessary, choice. To be more clear- the Special's stock lighting was sufficient in its stock form. The headlight was bright, the turn signals, signalled and the brake lights lit up sufficiently to satisfy the DOT standards. It was my decision to upgrade the lighting to better suit the style of the bike and improve it's functionality. Is the added expense of the upgrades worth the overall price tag of around $800? Well, that will depend greatly on two things- your budget and your desire. For me, and the kind of riding I do- long road trips and plenty of night time riding on two-lane backroads and the occasional curving mountain roads- it was absolutely worth the expense.

Stay safe MotoReaders and if you're going to get lit, get lit safely and make good choices.